Hope in a Time of COVID-19.


Apricot blossoms at HarborLAB at Vernon Blvd. Photo by Ira Gershenhorn.

Dear Friends,

When the first humans arrived in what is today New York City, there was no East River and mastodons still squelched about in the swamps of Hunters Point. We’ve prospered through change, challenge, and yes, a bit of chaos. We hope you and your loved ones are faring well and that all New Yorkers find strength in each other through the difficult times ahead.

Our launch on Newtown Creek is abloom. We welcome such small reminders that all is not doom and gloom.  Our apricot tree blossoms delight and for the first time daffodils line our pathway, thanks to Gardening and Habitat Manager Ira Gershenhorn. 



Daffodils along HarborLAB’s waterfront. Photo by Phillip Borbon.


HarborLAB will be adapting some programs and shifting emphasis in 2020 to continue service while remaining safe. Our programs will be rescheduled, canceled, and adapted as we continually course correct for official health orders and recession funding shortfalls throughout this year of disruption. We’re also innovating, purchasing high tech, rugged inflatable tandem kayaks from Long Island-based Sea Eagle, so that our volunteers can reach all corners of NY Harbor  for public programs and ecological stewardship, without relying on trucks and trailers. 

Please keep checking our website calendar and Facebook events list (now in draft form):




So what can we do now, in this time of “social distancing?” We’ll be held together by friendship, a shared mission, and online tools. This spring we’ll organize telepresence and distributed activities that volunteers and students can do from their homes. For example, we’ll equip volunteers to make seedballs at home and have a virtual seedball making gathering via live video streaming. Other instructional videos and online seminars will cover making mason bee houses from invasive phragmites reeds; different methods for trip planning in NY Harbor; how to operate marine radios and understand vessel chatter; how to tie knots and what knots to use for different purposes; and more! Please share your ideas! We’ll also need volunteers to help with fundraising and other administrative work.


One way or another, we’ll be afloat this summer! We ask that you plan with us in the expectation that we will proceed with posted programs and will need you, and we’ll update you if that turns out to not be the case. Volunteers are particularly needed for our Harbor Camp program with United Neighborhood Houses serving NYCHA youth, and our Neversink Reservoir program serving NYC public school students and community groups like Hour Children. 

If larger groups are still unsafe, our core volunteers will focus on individual and duo projects and programs, like seeding shorelines; documenting wildlife on harbor heron islands; water and soil sampling for laboratory testing; producing video guides to the harbor; and other efforts to bridge educational settings and outdoor spaces.


Epidemiologists caution that we could see a resurgence of COVID-19 in the autumn. If so, we’ll build upon the strengths we gain this spring and summer in online programming and solo and duo stewardship outings. If we are spared that misfortune, we’ll throw ourselves fully into classroom and field trip programming for educators and students. 

At each turn, HarborLAB will follow the guidance of experts, even when that leads to our personal frustration and disappointment. HarborLAB is a science education organization, so adhering to data-driven safety protocols evinces truth to mission. We can’t inspire students to seriously study science if we don’t take scientists seriously when they speak for the public good.



One final note: We’re grateful to our volunteers for the many ways they contribute to the general welfare beyond HarborLAB. Tito Alvarado, already a waterfront hero to his HarborLAB peers, is through the Navy Reserve and Naval Militia part of a tented COVID-19 testing site on Long Island. While in the Navy he was in charge of water quality testing at Camp Lemonnier in Djibouti. We’re grateful, Tito!

We thank you all for your continued support and, more than ever, wish you well.


Erik Baard
Executive Director

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